China Incarnate Word rises through decade of success

In 1999, history was made when the University of the Incarnate Word established China Incarnate Word. This school is the first American school in the People’s Republic of China where students are able to earn a degree accredited in the United States without leaving China.

The school came into existence under the leadership and guidance of Dr. Louis J. Agnese Jr., UIW president, and Dr. Patricia Watkins, vice president for international programs. In the late 1990s, when an unprecedented opportunity became available for American institutions to establish campuses in China, these two individuals seized it, making the first American educational institution in China an international reality.

China Incarnate Word.
Joseph Kirby, center, a business school graduate of the University of the Incarnate Word, teaches journalism at China Incarnate Word. He also serves as the adviser to the Signal, the first American student newspaper in China.

Once the school was established, it has achieved many important milestones. For instance, in the spring of 2003, the school held its first graduation ceremony, where 38 students received associate degrees. In late July 2010, the milestones will continue to accumulate as another large group of students is scheduled to graduate.

At the graduation ceremonies, students receive an associate or bachelor’s degree. Before these degrees are presented to students, keynote speakers such as AmCham South China President Harley Seyedin reinforce the magnitude of the graduation with an opening speech. Of course, for CIW to achieve its milestones, it has had to rise above many challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges of this operation is that an American school physically based in China has never been done before,” said Ernest Amende, CIW’s lead teacher. “China Incarnate Word is a new initiative, and there is no American-Chinese education reference model. China Incarnate Word and the Chinese schools have to learn from each other as the current model develops.”

Bringing the Western style of education into a Chinese setting also has proven to be tough. With Western education, discussions in the classroom are encouraged and emphasis is placed on critical and creative thinking. However, in Chinese schools, the teacher is the unquestioned expert who lectures as students take notes and listen.

“When new students enter China Incarnate Word, they have to quickly adapt to a foreign style of teaching,” Amende said. “New professors who come to China also have to adapt to a student who is from a different context and culture.”

Students often choose to go to CIW because they are able to earn an accredited UIW degree without leaving China. This opportunity is possible because U.S.-certified professors teach the courses. Moreover, UIW outlines the course curricula, class materials, and textbooks making CIW’s degree programs, which include international business and international accounting, mirror that of UIW.

Educators from the United States travel to CIW to teach the courses, which range from English as a second language to journalism to psychology. For students to receive their chosen degree, they must complete the same degree requirements as students at UIW, including community service hours.

The school is looking to grow even larger in the next 10 years. This growth in size will allow the school to provide more degree programs while also serving a larger proportion of the local population. These offerings will continue to enhance the exchange of cultures between the academic and local community and between China and the United States and further UIW’s efforts to globalize.


Lisa Lin and Heaty Hu
Lisa Lin and Heaty Hu

China Incarnate Word students Heaty Hu and Lisa Yin wrote this piece edited by Joseph Kirby, a journalism instructor at CIW who graduated with a business degree from UIW and formerly wrote a column for the Logos.

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